Hamamelis mollis 'Early Bright'
With a background in forest ecology, I’ve long been acquainted with the fall blooming habit of our native woodland witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. Every fall, I looked forward to seeing the witch hazel’s spidery flowers emerge, speckling the forest’s understory with yellow. It was not until entering the world of ornamental horticulture that I was introduced to a whole other world of witch hazels, one that includes winter-blooming witch hazels, such as Hamamelis mollis (the Chinese witch hazel), the species for this month’s Plant of the Month.
Hamamelis mollis offers us a bright burst of color during the winter. Four cultivars of the Chinese witch hazel can be found on the Swarthmore College campus, and the Scott Arboretum is responsible for the introduction of one of these cultivars, Hamamelis mollis ‘Early Bright’. The introduction of this cultivar occurred in 1988, selected for its exceptional, early bloom time. ‘Early Bright’ was first noticed by Steve Wheaton, Swarthmore’s former Director of Grounds. Over several years, he observed that one specimen, growing among a group of other Chinese witch hazels, consistently bloomed two weeks earlier than all the rest. With the help of our Curator (then Plant Recorder), Andrew Bunting, ‘Early Bright’ was named and registered by the Scott Arboretum.
At the arboretum, H. mollis ‘Early Bright’ has been observed blooming as early as the first couple of weeks in January; as of the day this post was written, the two in front of Swarthmore’s Papazian Hall were just on the brink of blooming. ‘Early Bright’ can also be found in our Witch hazel Collection and espaliered in the Theresa Lang Garden of Fragrance. In addition to its vibrant, golden-yellow color, the strap-like flowers of ‘Early Bright’-which bloom best in full sun-are sweetly scented.
Come out to the Scott Arboretum to beat the winter blues and see the Swarthmorean ‘Early Bright’. Julie Jenney, Education Programs Coordinator, will be leading a free tour on witch hazels and early spring blooms on Saturday, March 7 from 1 to 2:30 pm.
While I will always look forward to spotting the first fall-time blooms of our native witch hazel, now-during these winter months-I especially look forward to the advent of the beautiful blooms and scents provided by this Chinese witch hazel and others in our collection.